Is it time to cut the gordian knot of polar sovereignty?
Jabour, J and Weber, M, Is it time to cut the gordian knot of polar sovereignty?, Review of European Community and International Environmental Law, 17, (1) pp. 27-40. ISSN 0962-8797 (2008) [Refereed Article]
There has been recent discussion on the abandonment of
sovereignty in the Arctic and territorial and marine
claims in Antarctica in the interests of redefining these
regions into global commons with joint management.
Global commons refers to a region, or group of valued
resources, protected from exploitation in the interests
of the global population and future generations. While
it may be reasonable to examine the possibility of
shifting sovereignty in these regions and locking access
to any of the resources, an academic examination must
not focus on sovereignty in isolation from existing
management regimes. Sovereignty is not displaced
easily, and nor are sovereign rights; however there is
a large capacity for negotiation, consent and agreement
towards how resources and areas may be used
and enjoyed while maintaining an indifference to
existing or exerted territorial and/or marine claims.
Sovereignty and sovereign rights can also be preserved,
but their utility minimized in the presence of alternative
arrangements, as exemplified in the Antarctic Treaty.
In the absence of such arrangements, the self-interest
of States is manifest. A false sense of probability is
fostered by any examination that only considers
sovereignty and disregards State practice or current
management initiatives. This article demonstrates
that the current governance arrangements are legitimate
in a dynamic world, regardless of sovereignty,
and identifies the lengths to which the stakeholders
go to preserve both their national interest and that of
the global community in de facto global commons
areas. It concludes by offering a view that cutting the
Gordian knot of polar sovereignty is both risky and
premature in the absence of suitable alternatives.